There is so much confusion these days about the pit bulls. Are they a breed or are they a “type” of dog? Even owners can’t agree.
The truth is that American pit bull terriers are in fact a distinct breed; they are part of a group of working breeds that descended from the Molosser dog. Because of this, they look similar to many other breeds. Also, the term “pit bull” is often used to refer to many breeds of terriers: American pit bull, the bull, the American Staffordshire, and the Staffordshire bull terriers. This leads to a lot of misunderstanding, and sadly it has even led to people losing their beloved pets due to misidentification and breed-specific legislation which targets “types” of dogs.
So is it a pit bull or isn’t it? Thanks to the media, crossbreeding practices, and well-meaning but incorrect information, it is very hard to be sure. The true American pit bull terrier is people-friendly to a fault and weighs no more than 60 pounds at the absolute largest. We will clear up some of the confusion by identifying the top 10 breeds that are mistaken for pit bulls.
Astute readers may notice the American Staffordshire terrier is absent from this list. Since many people consider American Staffordshire and American pit bull terriers to be essentially the same, and since dogs can register as being both breeds at once (like claiming citizenship to two countries), I’ve left them off.
10. The American Bulldog
Generally white or predominantly white with patches of color, these big friendly brutes can weigh in at over 100 pounds. A working dog (as all bulldogs are), the American Bulldog is a wonderful family pet equally at home working on a farm or relaxing in an apartment—provided he gets enough exercise and is properly socialized.
The American bulldog is an accomplished hunting and sport dog and a favorite in the show ring. He comes in two types: standard and bully, with the bully type being stockier with a shorter muzzle.
The American pit bull terrier, while sharing many of the same wonderful traits, is much smaller than either type of American Bulldog and differs very much physically.
9. The Presa Canario
The Presa Canario is a very large mastiff-type dog. He can reach 150 pounds and he is very powerful. He is a working dog, used for herding cattle and guarding. His temperament can be aggressive; he is only a good choice for a very experienced owner who can handle his size and attitude. This is a big dog that knows he’s big. Aggression toward humans and other animals can be problematic if he is not socialized properly.
The pit bull, in contrast, is much smaller and has a much friendlier, more family-oriented temperament. The Presa Canario is a natural guard dog, with innate suspicion toward humans and the “alpha” type of assertiveness we see with guarding breeds, but the pit bull possesses neither of these traits; they are not guard dogs. The huge aggressive “pit bulls” we see walking around are often crossbred with the Presa.
8. The Cane Corso
The Cane Corso (pronounced kah-nay kor-so) is another very large breed. Also known as the Italian mastiff, the Cane Corso weighs from 70 to 100 pounds. His history is as a guard dog and a working dog, as most Molosser breeds are. The Cane Corso is not a fighter and is not generally known to be aggressive toward other dogs but is a guard dog by nature and is not recommended for any but the most experienced handlers because of his great size. He is protective and bonds tightly with family members, often with one family member in particular, and he may become overprotective if he is not socialized very early and often.
The pit bull is far less aloof with strangers and is typically very social in comparison to the Cane Corso. The pit bull is also much smaller, with very different physical features.
7. The Bull Terrier
Easily remembered as the Spuds McKenzie dog from the Bud Light commercials, the bull terrier is often mistaken for the American pit bull. Stubborn, tenacious, and a true terrier at heart, the bull terrier is smaller in size than our previous entries but don’t let that fool you. He is stocky and muscular, with erect ears and a pleasant demeanor. As a terrier, he has a highly-developed prey drive and has been known to kill smaller animals if they challenge or harass him too much. He is the perfect blending of the bulldog-terrier lineage: strong, tenacious, and stubborn, and because of this, he is not recommended for novice handlers.
The bull terrier has a very distinct appearance, with an “egg-shaped” skull and triangular eyes, both of which are exclusive to the breed. He is very easily distinguished from the American pit bull because of these unique features.
6. The Boxer
The boxer is one of the most popular breeds of dog in the United States. She is a working dog and a hunter, as well as an excellent guard dog. Tall and proud, she can weigh up to 80 pounds and is often recognized by her fawn-colored coat. However, she can be white, brindle, or multi-colored. This probably adds to confusion with the pit bull, as many people have not seen boxers of any color other than fawn. The boxer is intelligent and high-energy. She is great with children but can be stubborn and protective. She’s prone to mischief such as excessive barking, chewing, and other nuisance behaviors if she is not exercised enough.
The boxer and pit bull have some temperament similarities, as they can both be stubborn, high energy, and excellent with children, but the pit bull is smaller and does not possess the boxer’s distinctive shape.
5. The Dogo Argentino
A super-athlete bred for hunting wild boar, killing mountain lions, and protecting her human to the death, the Dogo is a fierce hunter and a brave guardian, excellent for use in military and police applications. She is very large, heavily-muscled, and white in color, weighing close to 100 pounds. A fairly new breed that originated in Argentina and still largely resides there, these dogs are relatively rare in this country but they are growing in popularity due to their stamina, loyalty, and exceptionally beautiful appearance. They are a great choice for people looking for a very active breed they can hike, camp, climb, and work outdoors with.
They have been described as similar to the pit bull terrier, even though the pit bull is much smaller than the Dogo. This adds to the confusion surrounding the pit bull “type” and has led to the Dogo Argentino often being misidentified.
4. The Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Besides the bull terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier (or “Staffy”) is probably the most similar to the American pit bull of all the breeds listed here, although he is still distinguishable from the pit bull with his trademark “Staffy smile” and a blocky, squared head. The Staffy is an affectionate dog, very friendly and wonderful with children. He loves to love and is an excellent family pet. He loves people and adapts to strangers very well. Like pit bulls, the Staffy possesses lower-than-average aggression toward humans.
Staffies are mistaken for pit bulls frequently, with many people believing the two breeds are the same. This is because up to a certain point in history, the American pit bull terrier, the Staffordshire bull terrier, and the American Staffordshire terrier were all the same breed of dog. They no longer are, however; they are now three very distinct and separate breeds.
3. The Bullmastiff
A very large dog, the bullmastiff is an excellent guardian and watchdog. He is a breed that needs no training in protection; he will react on instinct to any threat which presents itself. He is powerful and formidable, making him a great choice for activities such as pulling carts, which he greatly enjoys. He is smart and independent, making him a great agility competitor and a wonderful tracker in the field. He requires a somewhat special method of training because of his intelligence (he dislikes repetitive tasks) and requires a firm hand due to his size.
The bullmastiff is often confused for other breeds, including the pit bull. For instance, despite what many people think, the dog from the movie Turner & Hooch was not a bullmastiff—he was a Dogue de Bordeaux. The pit bull is much smaller than the bullmastiff, possessing a very different temperament and physical characteristics.
2. The Olde English Bulldogge
A fairly new breed, the olde English bulldogge is a throwback. This breed was an attempt to re-create the old bulldog of the 1800s, which was very different from modern bulldogs. This breed was created in the 1970s with foundation dogs that were English bulldog and bullmastiff, American pit bull terrier, and American bulldog (breeds that all have the old bulldog in their lineage). The olde English bulldogge is tenacious, agile, eager to work, and far less aggressive than the bull-baiter from the 1800s. He is muscular and strong, a true bulldog in every sense. This is a respected breed that thrives in pulling competitions, therapy work, and obedience competitions.
The olde English bulldogge, while similar to the pit bull and sharing a lineage, is a very distinct and different breed that is generally thicker, with a larger head and a shorter, trademark bulldog muzzle.
1. The Alapaha Blue Blood Bulldog
You may have never heard of this breed, but it is an old breed, surviving since the 1800s in isolated places in the South until 1979 when it was resurrected with a passion. The American pit bull we know and love today was created in part from this breed, as were a few others like the Black Mouth Cur and the Catahoula leopard dog. The Alapaha blue blood bulldog is a loyal, loving family member, as bulldogs are. She loves children and is a wonderful guardian and companion. She’s beautiful, spirited, tenacious, and eager, possessing the bulldog personality in spades. She can be aggressive if encouraged and because of this, she makes a wonderful protection dog but must be socialized well to prevent too much aggression.
This is in contrast to the American pit bull who, without training, generally won’t become naturally aggressive toward people.
What We’ve Learned
As this list unequivocally demonstrates, it is no easier to tell a dog’s genetic heritage just from looking than it would be to know a person’s heritage by visual clues alone. Breed misidentification plays a huge part in the stigma attached to pit bulls, and because of this thousands of animals lose loving families, are banned from cities, or are euthanized in shelters because they are incorrectly identified as “pit bulls” or “pit bull-types” based on how they look. Even experienced shelter personnel can’t get it right just by looking. DNA testing is the only way to be sure, but since that just isn’t feasible, to prevent needless deaths we must judge them based on their individual qualities instead of how they look.